It’s February 2014. That means After The Fires Went Out: Veneration is coming out later this month (release date and cover reveal are coming next week). So to tease those of you who are waiting for it, and to fulfill my duty of posting things on this blog once in a while, here is the first ever excerpt from Veneration, a little section that contains no major spoilers for Books One, Two, or Three (only two incredibly minor spoilers for Coyote).
And how did I do that?
Fourteen-year-old Sara “Tampon” Vachon had a crush on Payton Yallow.
Sara told us about it during a poorly-executed game of Never Have I Ever, one that was well-lubricated with Canadian Club Whisky. My punishment was to drink root beer instead of alcohol — I despise root beer — since I figured someone should be sober, but there may have been a joint or two passed around…
If you wanted drinking games or home-grown pot, Antoine Lagace was the man to have at your cottage.
“Never have I ever killed a guy,” Ant had said, looking directly at me.
“That’s not fair,” Fiona said.
Ant snorted. “You’re not playing, you naughty teetotaler. Now raise your hand, Baptiste, and tell us a story…”
I raised my hand. “It’s okay, Fiona. The secret to being the sober one is to accept that everyone around you is going to act like a complete idiot.”
Kayla raised her hand too.
I saw Ant’s face drop, his bubbly drunk-man grin falling flat. “Forget it,” he said. “That was stupid.”
“There’s no way you killed a guy, Kayla,” Matt said, ever the moron.
Kayla hand wavered a little, but she didn’t lower it.
“There’s two of us,” I said, “so no one has to talk about it.”
I smiled at her.
We both took a drink. The root beer tasted like vomit from a truffle hog.
At the time, I’d wondered if Kayla had raised her hand just so I wouldn’t have to get into it. Now I know she’d done it because of what had happened to her brother.
Sometimes I wish I was still at a place with Kayla where I could wrap her up in my arms and tell her she’s wonderful.
“My turn,” Matt had said. “Never have I ever fallen for a gay man.”
He was looking directly at Ant with a shit-eating grin.
Ant laughed. “I think you messed that one up,” he said. “You should have said ‘had a gay man fall in love with me’.”
“Come on,” Fiona said, “this is getting out of hand.”
“That’s the whole point of it,” Kayla said. “You can always go to bed if you can’t handle it. Isn’t it past your bedtime anyway?”
“No one’s paying attention to me,” Sara said, with that tone of voice she uses to calm things down.
She had her hand raised up like a kindergartner with the right answer.
“You’re the only one, Sara,” I said. “So tell us, girlfriend.”
She smiled at me.
And then she told us the story, the most embarrassing teenage crush story I’ve ever heard.
“I didn’t understand much about spying programs. If you’d asked me who Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning was, I wouldn’t have known. But there was an article in Time Magazine about Payton Yallow and the TriHomeSec Leaks, and I remember just staring at his picture on the cover. Those grey eyes…”
“You still have it bad,” Lisa said.
“I can roleplay it with you,” Ant said. “Just tell me what to wear.”
“Most girls had posters of boy bands and movie stars in their bedroom. I had clippings of Payton Yallow, not just photos, but articles from the trial. I was crushed the day he was sentenced.”
“You ever think maybe you had a mental illness?” Kayla asked.
“Here’s hoping,” Ant said. “That’s generally been my in with most girls.”
Sara shook her head. “It’s funny now, but I used to cry over it. And I even threw a little one-person party when I found out he was being released.”
“I’ll bet you read his book like ten thousand times,” Matt said.
Sara nodded. “Signed copy. Actually, I read the eBook, since I wasn’t about to dogear the pages of something so valuable.”
“You still have it?” Fiona asked.
Sara shook her head. “Yves took it when he left. Just to hurt me. Because cheating on me wasn’t bad enough.”
“This is taking a dark turn,” Ant said. “I’m not complaining… just observing…”
“Let’s all take a drink,” I said. “And come up with a new game.”
Sara gave me a look; I’d been with her long enough by that point to know what it meant.
“Time for bed,” I said. “Good night, idiots.”
And Sara excused herself, too.
I remember thinking at the time that little Sara was completely delusional, crushing so hard on a man who was obviously only interested in other men.
But thinking back now, I realize that it was probably less delusional than what I was up to when I was fourteen. Little Sara had never planned on being with Payton Yallow; he was twenty years older, on trial in Boston, and would have been a little too preoccupied to care. She’d known that it was a silly crush with no real goal, just a way for her to feel like she had found someone who meshed with her ideals, some brave soul to admire.
Fourteen-year-old Baptiste had convinced himself he was going to track down and seduce Beyoncé, to the point of actually closing his eyes and visualizing that day he “bumped into her” outside the Grammys.
I guess I’m not really embarrassed about those days, since every teenage boy in human history was about as stupid… but I’m still glad no one had said “Never Have I Ever Tried to Save Up My Allowance to Surprise a Global Superstar In-Person with My Love Sonnets”.
So remember, chidren… Veneration comes out later this month, as in right at the end of it. If you are behind the times and need to catch up, you know what to do.